When I was a child, my mother was the Editor-in-Chief of our local newspaper. My dad also worked, which meant that I had to be dropped off at my babysitter’s house during the week. My babysitter was a stay-at-home mom with kids of her own, so it all worked out.
One day Mom came early to pick me up. That day there were a few neighbor ladies there having coffee and cake. One of the women had her little girl with her; she was probably about 18 months old. She had three fingers on one hand, and I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
Mom was invited to join the ladies and have coffee, which meant I had more playtime. I remember being happy about the extra time, and pulled on my mother’s skirt and said, “Look, Mommy! That baby only has three fingers!” And I ran off to play.
On the way home, Mom told me that my comment had hurt the baby’s mother, and that what I said was rude. I remember feeling two emotions at once; 1) I had only wanted to be the one to tell my mother in case she hadn’t noticed that the baby only had three fingers, and 2) shame that I had hurt someone’s feelings.
How many times have we hurt someone’s feelings when we didn’t mean to? To this day, I remember how I had inadvertently made that poor mother feel even worse than she did already. Back then in the ’50s, there wasn’t a whole lot to be done with children born with deformities. I often wonder how that little girl made out in life.
We do a lot of things in life that we regret later; it’s simply part of being human. I think that the first time we know, that we fully understand that we have hurt someone; it is an eye-opening moment. With it comes not only shame but realization that we have the power to hurt someone. This “ah ha” moment can be the turn in the road that makes our lives better or worse.
Hopefully, we learn from our mistakes and missteps, and take the path that is nurturing and kind instead of mean and hurtful. We have the power to go either way. For me, that baby was my turning point. Wherever she is today, I hope that she has a good life and that having three fingers on one hand never held her back.
We can be so much more than our mistakes and missteps.